Art Works Blog

Blue Star Museums Spotlight on Heard Museum

“The arts matter because they touch our hearts and minds and bring us closer as we appreciate humanity in all its diversity.” – Ann Marshall

The Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona uniquely showcases Native arts and culture to visitors by presenting personal perspectives and first-hand narratives told by Native people. By working with American Indian artists and tribal communities, the museum combines storytelling with art to give its visitors a deep understanding of the collections and Native history. Not only does the museum offer a rich collection of exhibitsincluding Indigenous artifacts from across the worldbut it also serves as a space for hosting festivals, theatrical presentations, as well as musical and dance performances. To learn more about how the museum is engaging with the community, we got in touch via e-mail with Ann Marshall, Ph.D., director of curation and education at Heard Museum who gave us an inside look at the museum’s exhibitions, shared with us what distinguishes the Heard from other museums, and told us what they want their visitors to take away from their visit.   

NEA: Why does the Heard Museum participate in the Blue Star Museums program?

MARSHALL: It is our privilege to have [Blue Star Museums] to honor military families. We recognize that we live in a special place that is home to 22 federally recognized American Indian tribes and that through our exhibits and programs, we have a great story to tell. We want to make that story available to as many people as possible and hope that the Blue Star Museums program will give us a chance to say “thank you” to military families for all they have done for our country.

NEA: What’s the history of the Heard Museum? What sets it apart from other museums?

MARSHALL: Founded in 1929, the Heard Museum has an established reputation for landmark exhibitions, programs, and events reflecting Native heritage and artistic achievements. It is the largest private museum dedicated to the American-Indian experience. The Heard draws from its unparalleled collection of fine art and cultural objects. The museum sits on an eight-acre campus featuring an extensive library, archives with a prized database containing information on 25,000 American-Indian artists, a renowned shop (which provides significant economic support to Native artists), and the American Indian Veterans National Memorial – the only such monument in the U.S.

The mission of the Heard Museum is to educate visitors and promote greater public understanding of the arts, heritage, and life-ways of the Indigenous people of the Americas, with an emphasis on American Indian tribes and other cultures of the Southwest. The museum's collection of Indigenous art from throughout the western hemisphere spans more than 1,700 years of Native heritage—from 300 A.D. to the present. The collection of more than 40,000 objects includes multiple generations of fine art, weavings, pottery, basketry, sculpture, Katsina dolls, and more.

NEA: How does the Heard engage the community with the museum?

MARSHALL: Visitors of all ages can find something to interest them at the Heard. We are keenly aware that families need to have something in an exhibit to engage a variety of ages. We make sure that we have hands-on activities in our galleries and one gallery always focused on art-making. Our exhibits change throughout the year. We also have guided tours throughout the day that give visitors a chance to ask questions about areas of particular interest. Video and gallery interactive programs are all part of ways that we bring Native voices to our visitors. Every year, our festivals bring hundreds of artists to the museum. Whether it is our Mercado de las Artes in the fall, the World Champion Hoop Dance Competition in February, the Indian Fair and Market in March, free First Fridays, or Free Summer Sundays, visitors have great chances to talk with artists and learn first-hand about their art. 

NEA: What’s the story behind the American Indian Veterans National Memorial?

MARSHALL: The Heard was well aware of the impressive history of American Indians’ military service to their country. When we created the museum’s signature exhibit HOME: Native Americans in the Southwest, we made sure to create a section on defending home and recognized the talented Native artists who have served our country.

When TriWest Health Care Alliance approached the Heard offering to fund a major memorial on our grounds that honored American Indian veterans, we could not have been more pleased. In the memorial, we have a major sculpture by noted Chiricahua Apache artist Allan Houser and two sculptures by Vietnam veteran Michael Naranjo of Santa Clara Pueblo. On panels in the memorial, we recognize American Indians’ service to the United States from before there was a United States up to the present. We also recognize the American Indian Medal of Honor recipients that include some of the first recipients who served as scouts in the 19th century.

Two Native American statues standing, surrounded by walls with engraving.

American Indian Veterans National Memorial. Photo: Craig Smith/Heard Museum

NEA: One of the exhibits currently on view is Personal Journeys: American Indian Landscapes. What can you tell us about this exhibit?

MARSHALL: According to the exhibit’s curator Janet Cantley, “Personal Journeys explores the unique relationship American Indians have with land and how that has been expressed in art. Native artists use a variety of media and processes to express their stories: individual creations built on layers of cultural teachings, historical events, personal experiences, and spiritual insights. The take away for the visitor is that land as a subject matter for Native artists is a personal journey in history, culture, and identity.”

The exhibit is drawn from the Heard Museum collection [and features] approximately 70 works of art. It is an opportunity to pull pieces from our collection that we don’t get to exhibit very often. Frequently, our guests request to see paintings, but an unexpected aspect to American-Indian landscapes is the variety of media used to talk about the significance of land and landscape, including paintings, textiles, baskets, silver containers, sculpture, and pottery.

Some of the artists [featured in the exhibit] include: Tony Abeyta, Navajo; Norman Akers, Osage; Marie and Julian Martinez, San Ildefonso Pueblo; Dan Namingha, Hopi-Tewa; and many many others.

NEA: Is there an artwork at the Heard Museum that’s a special favorite of yours, or that you think is underrated?

MARSHALL: I have many favorite artworks, but there are two that come to mind. One is the stunning art fence Indigenous Evolution that is a collaboration between glass artist Tony Jojola (Isleta Pueblo) and clay artist Rosemary Lonewolf (Santa Clara Pueblo). It is a 30-foot glass and clay “fence” that is an explosion of color and textures. Every day our visitors stand in front of it pointing out details and marveling at its brilliance.

Artifiacts behind a window glass that are in front of the exhibit's entrance.

“Indigenous Evolution” by Tony Jojola (Isleta Pueblo) and Rosemary Lonewold (Santa Clara Pueblo), otherwise known as the “Art Fence,” in the HOME: Native People in the Southwest exhibit at the Heard Museum. Photo Craig Smith/Heard Museum

Another that could get overlooked, because we have so many Hopi Katsina dolls on exhibit, is a Turkey Katsina by carver Ros George. It is in the style of contemporary realistic carvings with incredible detail in every bit of the figure. The best part is how he carved the feet and hands of the figure to show a spirit transforming. It is turning around, and the tension in the figure is conveyed to the very tips of its wings and feet.

Traditional Native artifact in the shape of a turkey.

Turkey Katsina by carver Ros George. Photo: Craig Smith/Heard Museum

NEA: What’s your favorite Blue Star Museum besides the Heard, and why?

MARSHALL: It is Nohwike' Bágowa Museum, White Mountain Apache Tribe. While we have great Blue Star Museums in Phoenix, I would really encourage Blue Star Families to take a trip to the White Mountains and learn more about American Indians at a historic site. There is nothing like seeing the beauty of this land and meeting people for whom it has always been home to create a truly memorable experience.

NEA: Complete this sentence. The arts matter because…

MARSHALL: They touch our hearts and minds and bring us closer as we appreciate humanity in all its diversity. 

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